Reviews Short Narrative

Les Glaçons [Ice Cubes] (2020) – 5 stars

Director: Sara Dufossé

Writer: Sara Dufossé

Cast: Louise Manteau & Gaël Soudron

Running time:  10mins

As seen recently with Aftab Bose’s review of ICON, celebrity as commodity is the feature of the age. The need to celebrate and be celebrated pervades all of the selves that we construct and are constructed for us by social media. Even after that, though, a person or a piece of art can still come along and make us think just being human is the extraordinary thing: the everyday is a thing of wonder – shattering that otherwise sturdy carapace. Sara Dufossé’s short film, Ice Cubes, is this kind of epiphany.

Staring at a screen or working on the factory floor; braving the pandemic to deliver shit for rich people or wiping people’s arses in a hospital – I am aware, as I write at leisure looking out over the palatial gardens of the Hôtel de Moore, that if you have been doing any of these worthy tasks, Ice Cubes might not be the ideal movie to put your feet up and chill out to. But when you are in the space to fully engage – give it a go.

A woman is asleep on a couch. She wakes up. She has toothache. A man arrives bringing a box of her belongings. They talk. He gets some ice cubes to help relieve her toothache. They have coffee. He leaves. And that is it, folks. Nothing to see, nothing to post on social media – move along now. But there is so much more to engage with here if you only take the time.

Filmed in one continuous shot, the soundtrack is simply what can be heard from the outside of the house in which the film was shot: birdsong and the voices of children playing. The camera moves toward lead actress Louise Manteau asleep on a couch. As the director is not afraid to linger, we are given time to place this thirty-something woman in terms of our own construction of a social reality. Why is she sleeping fully clothed? Ripped jeans: distressed fashion or just old jeans?

Manteau’s portrayal of someone coming to terms with waking reality after sleeping on an uncomfortable sofa is exquisite and is beautifully filmed. In the weird sub-genre of uncomfortable awakenings, it stands comparison with Joe Strummer’s cameo in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train – blinking into consciousness from asleep on a pool table. As Manteau emerges from the sofa, a clink tells us she has upset glasses or cups, and she head to the sink to get a cloth. The camera follows her, and we see her take a gulp from an open bottle with “Ale” on the label. Since it is daylight, presumably, morning, it is left to use to determine if she is a problem drinker.

The house has old fashioned furniture and seems at odds with the protagonist’s persona. There is a whole set of post-it notes stuck to an opened newspaper which Manteau irritably throws away. There is an incongruous smiley sign on the coffee machine. The doorbell rings: it is Jerome (Gaël Soudron) who greets Manteau’s character as ‘Louise.’ The camera follows them to the living room where the remainder of the film is set.

In a brilliantly worked out conversation, we learn the answer to the questions Dufossé had suggested to us. However, there is no resolution as the dialogue continues to throw up further questions as to Jerome and Louise’s ended relationship.

What is wonderfully portrayed through the fine performances of Manteau and Souron is the remaining tenderness felt for each other by the former lovers. We are made to feel this in the film’s climactic scene – the ice cubes of the title. Jerome, who is portrayed as being someone who has it together, gets a bag of ice cubes presses them to the side of Louise’s face while other his other hand holds her brow. For a few seconds, this is done in a kind of medical manner, then intimacy intrudes – Jerome starts to massage/stroke Louise’s neck. Louise hears the coffee machine boiling over and breaks away. The tenderness of the past has gone and the polite ex-lover relationship of now takes over once more. Anyone who has been through the breakup of a relationship will recognise that moment when both of you have to pull down the shutters.

Later on, in the conversation, the old intimacy bubbles up again but this time in shared humour. The camera work whilst all this is unfolding is so sensitively done that the film has a voyeuristic quality as though we are being asked to make some kind of judgement as to the reasons why the relationship did not endure. Oh, Louise is a bit of a ditherer… that Jerome’s a bit of a pain of a control freak. The characters are so sympathetically and winningly portrayed though, and by the end of the movie we have been made to invest so heavily in them, that Dufossé is able to inveigle the viewer into questioning whether the relationship is indeed definitively ended. But then what does the end of a relationship mean? The past is not dead…it’s not even past.

A lot of credit for the film’s success must go to the casting of Soudron and Manteau. The actors work so well and so naturally together in depicting the quirks and strangeness of a particular relationship. For Soudron, especially, whose biggest credit to date appears to be Other Customer in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir this was one hell of a step-up. Celebrity beckons.

At this point, your curmudgeonly reviewer normally picks out the absurdities and the parts that do not work in the film on offer. However, I cannot see anyway that Ice Cubes might have been made better… Watching Ice Cubes was as though an early modern narrative painting (think Gerard ter Borch or Pieter de Hooch) had come to life in film: answering our questions but then posing a whole lot more. Hopefully, Ice Cubes will convey to new independent filmmakers that use of a single shot technique to portray the quotidian realities of the seemingly unglamorous lives of the non-celebrated can be a winning combination and produce subversive and engaging cinema. In the meantime, my only advice to Dufossé and her team is, “Make more movies.”

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